CAPITOL CORRIDOR JPB MEETING REPORT
November 14, 2007
Suisun City, California
Report and PHOTOS by Russ Jackson
Two rebuilt Superliner cars in California Car colors are operating now, and the other five on order will start arriving at about one a month starting in the Spring, providing capacity improvement for the Capitols and the San Joaquins. Unsaid at the meeting, though, is that effective November 13 there was a 3% fare increase on the Corridor. The most interesting NEWS to come out of this meeting of the CCJPB was actually about another meeting that was scheduled to start that afternoon and continue into the next day.
For many years the states, like California, have been unhappy with Amtrak’s methods of calculating costs that states must pay to Amtrak for running state-supported trains. At the instigation of Wisconsin, and including the 15 states that contact with Amtrak for service, a group of those 15 has been formed. During the CCJPB meeting Director Thomas Blalock asked Managing Director Gene Skoropowski if there was a plan in the works regarding the $150 million new car procurement that will hopefully come from voter approved Proposition 1B funds, so that “our designs for these new cars could be considered a standardized design for other agencies looking to buy cars, which would lower the “per unit” cost for everyone.” Mr. Skoropowski replied, “Funny you should ask! I can report to you that there is a meeting in Sacramento this afternoon and tomorrow of the 15 states with Amtrak contracts. Those state representatives have ridden our cars, like them, and see the possibility of doing just that so that the wheel will not be reinvented too many times.”
But that’s not all. The other main agenda item for the 15 states meeting: They are unhappy with Amtrak’s COST ALLOCATION procedure, which is driven by the Route Profitability System method of accounting that has been heavily discredited for many years by RailPAC and the United Rail Passenger Alliance. Now there is group action, with 15 states weighing in and looking for answers and action. Stay tuned, the results of this meeting may not be public information for a while, but it could bring positive outcomes for the states that have to cough up what Amtrak charges with little documentation.
After the CCJPB meeting Managing Director Gene Skoropowski (left) and the Union Pacific’s Tom Mulligan boarded train 528 for Sacramento.
As for the CCJPB, the old idea of a love-fest continues at each meeting with Directors expressing their approval of the operation of the Capitol Corridor. Vice-Chair Mary Ann Courville said all the good news contained in the reports they receive indicate that the CCJPA is one of the few transportation agencies that is showing show continuous improvement. She said, “Thank you (to the staff and employees) for making us look good!” Chairman Forrest Williams echoed that sentiment, saying he provides the good data to his SCVTA board. Other Directors added their approval. Mr. Blalock reported that he attended a meeting in Union City, which is eventually going to be a BART exchange station with the Capitol Corridor when that city moves the tracks closer to its station. And, “their station will be solar powered!” Good news indeed, and reflecting the morale of the meeting the CCJPB adopted the FY 2006-7 Annual Performance Report unanimously..
That doesn’t mean that there are no problems. The state’s manipulation of funds with the STIP and TPA accounts this year has been costly for transportation agencies. Mr. Williams spoke to this issue in his opening remarks, mentioning that the Chairs of the four California rail corridors (Capitols, San Joaquins, Coast Rail, and LOSSAN) will be meeting to plan strategies to restore sense to the funding mechanism in the state. He expressed pleasure that the U.S. Congress has shown its support for intercity rail, and that they are ready to provide funds. “We must be ready,” when new funds are available, Mr. Williams said. Mr. Skoropowski added that “we are still waiting for the state Department of Finance to report that buying new cars is justified.” Then Caltrans can start the ordering procedure.
A list of capital spending projects was approved to be submitted for future state funding, with crossovers and station improvements on the list. Another list of capital projects that would receive funds from the Proposition 1B “Trade Corridor Infrastructure Fund” account, which requires matching money from the freight railroads and is designed to “relieve traffic along major trade of goods corridors.” The four items are: adding mainline tracks from Oakland to Martinez, upgrading rail tunnel clearances over Donner Summit to allow double-stack container trains to operate there (which would increase the potential for additional passenger rail traffic), Sacramento Rail Station realignments to add 2 new freight tracks and 4 dedicated passenger station tracks with platforms, and a program of adding improvements to the Capitol Corridor route to improve operational flexibility.
In his Managing Director’s Report, Mr. Skoropowski said ridership growth is seeing a 10% improvement each month over the same months a year ago.
“We’ve seen increased revenues, (50% of all riders are still “full fare” discretionary riders while others use multi-ride tickets) and a Revenue-to-Cost Ratio which reached 50.9% in October, 2007.” The latter can be further improved “when more coach cars become available to add to existing trains especially during the heaviest travel periods.” The new Quik-Trak ticket machines are a success, “and are the best investment we have made.” On Time Performance is interesting, in that “half of our late trains are only 10 to 15 minutes late.” Chairman Williams concluded the meeting by observing that “improved farebox recovery is our dream and I hold this as a goal.”
Capitol train 528, running 10 minutes late, pushes out of the Suisun/Fairfield station, passing under the pedestrian overcrossing that leads to the Solano County Government Center. The photographer noted no one used the overcrossing, but four people including a child, crossed the tracks rather than use the safe route across this busy rail facility.
The next CCJPB meeting will by February 20, 2008, in Suisun City Hall.